School boosts insurance $; Big jump in annual cap highlights new contract with teachers

by Tom Coombe -

Premium relief for skyrocketing health insurance costs forms the heart of a new contract inked between the Ely School District and the local teachers’ union.
The district’s annual cap for health insurance premiums will jump to $20,000 per teacher for family coverage under terms of a two-year deal approved by school board members Monday night.
The board voted 5-0, with Rochelle Sjoberg absent, to approve the contract worked out between board and union negotiators.
Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson said Monday that teachers had earlier voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of the contact, which raises the insurance cap for the first time in more than a decade.
Since at least 2006, district health insurance contributions had been capped at just over $12,000 per year, but a series of recent premium hikes lifted annual costs to as much as $32,000 and resulted in sticker shock - with some teachers as well as AFSCME employees under the plan facing out of pocket premium costs of nearly $20,000 for 12 months of coverage.
The contract negotiations, as well as a change in health insurance plans, have resulted in significant relief.
“It’s a good settlement,” said Abrahamson, who joined a board negotiating team in contract talks that extended over several months.
Last spring, the district changed health insurance plans and joined the Public Employees Insurance Program, which offered three levels of family coverage including a “low” plan for about $21,000, a “value” plan for approximately $26,000 and a “high” plan of $29,000.
District contributions for teachers choosing single coverage are capped at $10,000 in the new contract, which exceeds the annual premium of both the low and value plans and comes in about $1,000 under the high plan premium of $10,918.
The other major component of the new contract, which runs through the 2018-19 school year, includes changes to the district’s salary scale.
The first two steps of the salary scale were removed from this year’s contract, and a third will be taken out for 2018-19, raising the starting salary for Ely teachers from about $35,000 in 2015-16 to $39,961 this year and $42,635 in 2018-19.
School board chairman Ray Marsnik said the change was made to make the district more attractive to prospective teachers.
“Our starting salary was $35,000, which is not a hell of a lot of money in this day and age,” he said.
In addition to yearly pay increases based on experience, the salary scale was also adjusted to include $1,000 increases across the board for each year of the contract.
That provision, rather than a percentage increase, was requested by the union, according to Abrahamson.
Board members accepted the deal with little discussion at a special meeting that followed their monthly study session, but Marsnik said he was happy with the result of contract negotiations.
“When we went in there were two major objectives,” he said. “One, we had to do something with health insurance for our employees, and two we had to so something with the starting salary for our teachers.”
The teaching pay scale for the 180-day contract year ranges from $39,961 to $67,526 this year, and from $42,635 to $68,526 in 2018-19, plus additional pay through the Q-Comp alternative compensation program, as well as health insurance benefits.
The impact of the contract on the district’s budget was not immediately available Monday.

HERE’S A DEAL: Got kids in ISD 696? Call Anne at 365-3141, extension 20 fpr a special school days family offer and get the Ely Echo delivered to your Ely area home at HALF PRICE for ONE YEAR! That’s a $33 savings over the newsstand price! Call now.